I Found the Faceless Portrait After Breaking and Entering

I’m in love with a podcast called My Favorite Murder – perhaps you’ve heard of it? If not, it’s a true crime comedy show hosted by two hilariously deranged women, Karen and Georgia. As a true crime fanatic, I was ecstatic when it was introduced to me by a friend about two years ago. One of the best things they do is called “hometown murders”, where they read fan-submitted stories about their experiences with the macabre. These submissions have expanded to include ghost stories, sinkholes, things found in walls, etc. This morning I submitted my own ghost story, and after writing it all out, thought it might be a fun read for others.

Please, pardon the language, it’s part of the humor.


Hi All,

While my sleepy hometown remains uncommonly murder-free, I do have a great, Catholic ghost story that I thought you all might enjoy.

I attended college at an incredibly small, private Catholic school for women (yep, only women), because I am both a feminist and filled with unmitigated guilt. There was a single dorm which housed our roughly 350 students, and we shared the gorgeous, wooded campus with a convent of the order of Sisters who founded the school back in the late 1830s. Since none of the buildings had been updated since around 1930, creaking floors, rattling pipes, unexpected drafts, and slamming doors were common occurrences. Add the cemetery, home to every Sister who had died since 1840, and we were basically living on 62 acres of prime haunted real estate.

The Sisters had a huge influence over the school, and any sort of haunting rumors were discouraged. Demons were another story – we had a bathroom which had been exorcised – but ghosts weren’t real. The only story they entertained and truly believed in, was that of the Faceless Nun. As the story went, a young nun belonging to the convent was a savant of oil portraits. She did these for the community elite, and her practice was to always paint the details of the face last. After some recognition and success in the community, she decided that she would try her hand at a self portrait. However, before she could complete the work and add her facial features, she died of whatever illness was frequently killing off otherwise healthy young people at the time (tuberculosis, maybe?). A few days after her funeral, another nun was in the chapel for her evening prayers, when she noticed a fellow sister in the corner – her head bowed, hands covering her face, and crying. The nun went to her to comfort her, but when she placed her hand on the crying-sister’s shoulder, the sister raised her head to reveal skin stretched over bones – no eyes, no nose, no mouth. The nun who saw this apparently passed out from fright and had to be kept in the hospital for the rest of her life. The Sisters purport that the nun in question committed the sin of vanity with her self-portrait and is now trapped in purgatory (sans face). 

I’ve always loved ghost stories, so I ate this shit up. Fast forward a few years and I’m serving as an RA. With the position comes a set of master keys that accessed the dorms and academic building. I, being incredibly responsible, obviously abused this power in search of adventure on boring Saturday nights. My friends and I would enter the academic building, and then use the interconnecting underground tunnels (hell yeah, abandoned underground tunnels!) to access the other facilities. One night we managed to get into the basement of the administrative building, which gives unique access to a service elevator that can take you to the attic. The joyride to the top level was frightful in and of itself because the elevator was never serviced (as it wasn’t supposed to be used) but we carpe diem’d it anyways. The attic probably hadn’t been accessed in over a decade, and was filled with broken religious relics, like statues of Jesus with rebar sticking out of his hands like a fucked-up reverse stigmata. I wandered over to some old paintings in gorgeous turn-of-the-century frames and started sifting through them.

I swear to God I almost threw up in fear when I pulled back one of the frames to find AN OIL PAINTING OF A NUN WITH NO FACE. I started crying for some reason and yelled for my friend to come over so that I could confirm I wasn’t haven’t a stroke and seeing things. The painting was incredibly old, ripped in places, covered in dust, and had burn marks around the edges of the frame. My friend starts freaking out as well, screaming “THEY SAID IT WAS IN THE ATTIC OF FOLEY!”. I too, then, suddenly remembered all of the stories saying that they nuns had kept the original portrait in the attic of Foley Hall, which was the original dorm/academic building in the 1800s. It had been destroyed in a fire in 1990. Suddenly we realize that most of the things in the attic had signs of fire damage – concluding these must have been the surviving artifacts from the building. My friend couldn’t handle it and begged me to leave, so we took off.

A few nights later, I was walking around campus around 2:00 AM thanks to my anxiety-insomnia. I did this often and it was never a cause for concern. As I was walking alongside the Motherhouse, I noticed a nun walking toward me. I didn’t think too much off it at first, but then realized she was wearing a full habit. Our order no longer wore habits – the nuns wore pastel, conservative, but otherwise normal clothes. I stopped and stood there for a second, thinking “maybe she’s wearing it for fun?“. But then she raised her head, and even though it was dark, there was enough light to notice the absence of shadows across her perfectly smooth, NON EXISTENT FACE.

I noped it out of there faster than I have ever noped it in my life. When I got back to my dorm room, I stuck my rosary in my bra (closest to my stampeding heart) and said every prayer I have ever remembered and made up a few new ones to be safe. I don’t think the Almighty minded the few “fucks” I peppered into my Hail Marys. I saw the Faceless Nun one other time while I was a student there, and it was less shocking, but still unbelievably creepy


Just Go With It

Like so many young people, I struggled in adapting to life after college. Not so much in the economical or career sense, but in the social. I had spent several arduous years cultivating a tight-knit group of female friends that seemingly easily dispersed post-graduation. It would take me years to understand that the commitment of those friendships didn’t change, just the physical exposure to the people. But I was young, dumb, and lonely.

I was also dealing with 24 years of unresolved emotional issues, which landed me in therapy. Easily this was the greatest rock-bottom of my relatively short life, because therapy forced me to question myself in every conceivable way. One of the many results of this was an identity crisis. When my therapist challenged my concept of self, I realized that I could, actually, be anyone I wanted to be. I was elated. And horrified. But mostly I was scared to try anything new with people who already knew me.

Enter Fe, Fi, and Fo. These three people would ultimately change who I was as a person by forcing me into a situation of choice. Their first impressions of me were entirely different than anyone else in my life. They may have saw me as naive, most people do, but they also saw a purpose in me that I didn’t recognize at the time. They were friends, long before I came along, but we somehow quickly morphed into a four headed monster of a friendship.

This was my chance, I thought. This was my blank slate. Most people spend their adolescent years trying on different personalities and lifestyles. I was too busy assuming the burden of responsibilities that weren’t my own. I didn’t get to experiment. I never let myself. But suddenly, at nearly 25, I felt the freedom to do so. And I got carried away in this world were these people looked at me like delicious, damaged fruit. My bruises made me juicier, and we would sit around the table, pouring drinks, smoking weed, and comparing scars. They made me think my issues were charming, that my neurotic behavior made me special. Who doesn’t want to feel special?

From an outsider prospective, it was easy to see that the relationship was beyond unhealthy – it was diseased. Fe and Fi were married, happily or unhappily – it depended on the day. Their relationship was rife with miscommunication, guilt, and secrets. I know because they each told me different things. Fo was a friend of theirs, nearly 10 years their junior. Later on, Fe, Fi, and Fo would form a sort of ménage a trois. They were “challenging society’s concept of monogamy”. I was slightly nauseous.

For the solid year and a half of our intense relationship, my mantra remained “just go with it”. I said it after my first, second, and consecutive hits off their blunt. I said it as I mixed my benzodiazepines with alcohol. I said it as every moral line I held was crossed, and every ethical bridge I had built was burnt. I said it after all of these choices led me to an incapacitated state, and I came to being violated by the people who called me special.

I wanted so badly to see if I could be someone else. I wanted to believe I was a part of something so special that other people couldn’t understand it. But even as it does in those formative, adolescent years, the sheen of excitement wears off and you’re exposed to the grime underneath. After almost two years, I came up for air and didn’t recognized my surroundings, but I finally recognized myself.

And I walked away.

These people hurt me in ways I’m still deconstructing. But they aren’t bad people. Fe is an unhappy person, trying everything in their power to make themselves, Fi, and Fo happy – no matter what the cost. Fi is a narcissist, without question, but with enough charm to fool the Pope. Fo has borderline personality disorder, and is one of the most exhausting people in the world to be near. Individually they could stand a chance – together they’re a masochistic Cerberus. They devour one another. For a while, I made their toxicity okay. I was a common denominator. Until I didn’t want to be that anymore.

To anyone on the outside, I’m an asshole who abandoned their closest friends. I’m Judas. I’m the person who left their friends for a romantic partner. I’m the jerk. I’m the villain. I’ll gladly take that title. I’ll be the villain in their story as long as I’m the protagonist in my own.


About 17 years ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was eleven, and between my parents and I, we did the best we could to control my blood sugars. Unfortunately, I had the privileged of getting slapped with an autoimmune disease and puberty at the same time. Raging hormones are unkind to those without a functioning pancreas.

I was treated at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. The care I received was unconditionally amazing. The hospital, the staff, and the clinic worked with me and my family ceaselessly. They worked with my parents to get me on insurance since my dad was self employed. They never shamed me for the difficulties I had with my A1C. I even got to participate in a study on the effects of type 1 diabetes among teenagers. It was incredible.

Until I turned 18. I aged out of pediatric care – as well as my state supplied insurance. In the days before the affordable care act, there was literally no option I could find to insure myself. My parents, at this point, made too much money to qualify for the “adult” version of my previously children’s program. My college didn’t offer insurance through the school. Neither myself or my parents could afford private insurance.

And so I went four years without insurance – without seeing an endocrinologist. I only survived thanks to patient assistant programs through the companies that made my insulin. I didn’t check my blood sugar often because the test strips were so expensive.

This is when my burnout started. I stopped counting carbs the way I should. I frequented bars with my friends and got rip-roaringly drunk without a second thought of my glucose levels. I was hospitalized twice – once for ketoacidosis and once for chronically low blood sugars during a severe bought of flu. I couldn’t extend the physical and mental requirements for proper care.

So I gave up.

I denied the opportunity to attend graduate school to pursue my dream career because I knew I needed insurance through my employer. So I started job hunting right after graduation. I got a job, got insurance, and started trying to put the pieces of a proper care regime back together. But I was angry. And I was tired. And in the five years since I’ve never been able to really dedicate myself to the level of care I achieved when I was younger.

Recently I’ve found out I have dot hemes in my eyes, and I know I’m on the road to retinopathy. I’m trying to get myself put back together, but the burnout and the routine are so far gone I find I’m floundering. Is there anyone else out there who has struggled with long term care? Is there anyone else who has experienced this crippling feeling of burnout? How did you cope? What tools did you use?

All help, fellowship, and advice are extremely appreciated.

Difficult People

If getting along with people was an Olympic sport, I’d medal in it. I’m not saying I would take home gold, but I had at least 18 years of training of being agreeable, and that’s no small feat. I’d like to think that I’ve matured and, to borrow the expression “grown a backbone” in my years outside of my parents home. But my default is always ‘playing well with others’.

Until recently.

I’ll confess that there is someone who I work with who just…infuriates me. I would call it irrational if the person in question wasn’t so polarizing. I worked through it for the first 6 months; painfully navigating a friendly interaction every time. But then, about 2 months ago, it felt like something inside of my literally broke. I could no longer manage the initial greeting or pleasantry. I stopped going out of my way to offer help. I started speaking only when spoken to, and referring this individual to our boss whenever possible.

Initially I was disappointed in myself. Though I now strongly disagree with the idea that women should be raised to be complacent and nice above all else, I am proud of my composure and treatment of people. To react so viscerally to someone who I only knew within a work context seemed unfair and petty of me.

But as time has passed, and as I’ve listened to other people share my same concerns over this individual, I’ve come to realize that some people just don’t mesh. This person and I could not be more different in temperaments, perspectives, or the way we approach problems. It makes sense that it would be difficult for us to work together. I had established early on that I would bend to make things more comfortable for everyone – an act that I now partially regret. Realizing my mistake and changing my behavior, while warranted, has made me appear angry and uncooperative.

I deal with that now, and I focus on my work and less on my interactions. I’m still cordial and polite and never go out of my way to be sardonic. But I’m less likely to extend lunch invitations and more likely to hold this person accountable when they mess up – as I would expect from them.

Actions of Dust

I was recently hosting an event at the college where work. It was a lecture for senior students, the theme of which was “A Meaningful Life”. Though not out of place at a liberal arts school, I work at a STEM school, and we’re often luck to get these future engineers to attend anything quite so existential.

But our attendance was decent, and I was excited myself to hear the speaker. Though small, our school does host a Humanities and Social Sciences department among the numerous engineering degree tracks. I asked one of the professors to present on the topic, giving him no more details than the title and encouraging him to make what he wanted out of it. He did not disappoint.

The synopsis of his lecture was that there are 5 things to know and understand in order to give meaning to our lives. I was in and out of the room during some of his presentation, but one thing that he said made me stop and take note of it so I wouldn’t forget.

Whether we are a circuit of biochemicals, or fearfully and wonderfully made, we are all actions of dust.

It’s such a beautiful thought to me – and a true statement. No matter our beliefs, our creeds, our faith, or our understanding of the world – we begin and end in relatively the same way. Our circumstance and situations – whether divine intervention or random assignment – dictate reactions from us. Our actions then define us, and continue doing so until we ultimately reach our inevitable end. And from death, life continues.


I remember the dogwoods blooming more than anything. That brief window of unbridled beauty that swept across campus in the spring. Their blooms fat and pink, weighing down the twisted branches. For four years, their bursting buds and fragrance ushered in a sense of renewal and hope.

The dogwoods were significant; they carried symbolism known only the the few of us. When they came alive, I always felt like things were about to change for the better. They made the difficulties of the year easier. Like a birthday, or New Years Day – blooming dogwoods meant a new start.

I can feel that sensation inside of me again. I hope that, whatever has happened in the past, will be washed away with the spring. Despite the heavy frost everywhere, and no sign of blooms in sight, I feel the security that spring brings. I feel hope in the absence of my trees; faith in something less tangible than a carpet of petals.

Solvitur Ambulando

An exert from “On Repair” by The Wander Society:

“Spend time observing the object to be repaired or mended: look at the tear, the hole, the worn area. Listen to it, feel it, be curious about it.
Go through the process of repair in your mind and keep your mind ready for an inspired thought or idea.
Gather your materials and tools.
Begin the repair.
Be slow, be attentive.
Take pauses,
Be attentive and focused about the motions you are making, feel the substance of the materials, be deliberate about your movements.
When your attention goes away, be tender and place it back on your work, on your body, on your materials and hands.
Be generous with your expectations about time.
Repair requires time…”

I have never read anything so close to the process of healing. All of the parts of myself that I dislike are direct results of not repairing the tear. Every time I’ve lashed out in anger, at myself or others, or for all of the times that I’ve hid behind a lie or compensated a feeling of loss by acquiring material things – all of this is because I wasn’t actively repairing. I was avoiding.

“Listen to it” is invaluable advice. It’s something my therapist used to tell me. As soon as we would get close to a traumatic memory, I would pull  back, afraid to open myself back up to that pain. He used to tell me, “listen to your reaction, what does that tell you?”.

It’s okay to take time to repair your tears, holes, and worn areas. Even if other people don’t understand your pain, or your processes. It’s your divine right.

Truth is Stranger

A thought kept occurring to me on my morning commute, as I went over and over the changes I’ve been through in the past year. To think back to January of 2017 is to imagine a completely different life than what I have now.

The thought that kept coming up this morning was related to escapism, and how I used to use it as a crutch. All my life, since childhood, I’ve used books and stories as a way to escape reality. Fiction was always more comforting, more exciting, and easier to digest than truth.

As I started reaching the apex of my emotional transition, my reality became so overwhelming that I started writing fiction into my real life. I was no longer escaping into books, but I was escaping into an imagined version of myself. While I think it is incredibly important to try on different versions of yourself, the truth is that I wasn’t even playing the role of myself – I was trying to be someone else entirely.

The problem with creating a fiction of yourself is that you start to lose the truth. Looking back, I can see the slow process of me chipping away at the things which are important to me. It’s not until I finally dropped the facade,  put down the book, and looked around that I realized what I had done, and what I had lost. Rebuilding the destruction of yourself can be a slow processes, but it’s worth ever inch of ground covered.

Is true what they say, that often truth is stranger than fiction. Whatever role I was trying to play is small potatoes compared to the person I am now. And I wouldn’t trade the person I am now for anything.

The Last Session

When I sat in my therapists office for what would, potentially, be the very last time, he told me that most people just late cancel on a session and never come back. Or they just stop scheduling appointments without discussion.

I was shocked by this. Partially because I find it kind of rude, but mostly because I couldn’t fathom the absence of closure. I needed to have this last session with him. I needed to wrap up the last two and a half years with one last conversation, one last congratulation.

To me, that last session was physical representation of emotional and mental growth. It was the culmination of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve learned about myself, and everything I need to remember move forward.

I needed to sit in that chair across from him and not fear the conversation. I needed to experience seeing him as a partner in my emotional/mental growth, rather than a superior that was going to fix me.

And that’s exactly what happened. When I left his office that last time, I fully owned my right to have been there in the first place – something I had struggled with so intensely at first.

The Wandering Kind

I’m currently sitting in a local coffee shop in my home town, finishing the outline for my second short story for publication. It’s the kind of July day that makes you believe in Octobers again. Soon, an old friend of mine will be meeting me for tea and, inevitably, the philosophical discussions we usually get into.

My life did not exactly take the direction I always thought it would. I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way. I’ve disappointed myself and others, but I’ve made the choice to forgive myself and move forward. I’ve invested time, energy, and love into myself. I can move on, confident in my convictions.

I may not be where I always wanted to be, but I’m headed in the direction of where I need to be. There is something wonderfully comforting about that.